584 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
St Nicholas' park lies next to the river in Warwick. A small and rather run-down cafe in its heart lies about half way between my alma mater Warwick School (then) for Boys and Kings High School for Girls up in the centre of the old town. On Monday I had an hour to kill as my father suffered a routine check up at the Hospital and so I enjoyed a coffee and tapped out an article in a place I last visited more than thirty years ago. It has not changed much although a charming and rather pretty oriental waitress brightened it up a bit.
My memories of the cafe three decades ago were of smoking and girls. It was where, as a sixth former, you could head out for some tobacco in a "safe space" and where you could also meet young ladies, or rather, preferably not so lady like girls from King's High. Lizzie, Claire W, 'Toria and ten Benson & Hedges... what more could you ask for?
These days middle class teenagers might all regard dope as part of sensible balanced diet but they would rather eat their own faeces than smoke tobacco. It is like not accepting the normality of transgenderism. It is just not socially acceptable. As for girls? Warwick now teaches both girls and boys in the sixth form although I am sure that most of the girls are far too mature for sex-starved 16 year old boys.
But in theory there are girls on tap back at the old school. The cafe in St Nicholas' Park has therefore lost its lunchtime purpose altogether. And sure enough the only other folks in the cafe were a couple of young Polish mums and a few gentlefolk even older than me. And, of course, the rather attractive waitress.
The cafe itself was unchanged in appearance but everything else has moved on so very swiftly.
704 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I was trying to find an article I had written on how Greek kids torture cats but instead came upon a piece about Western study of the Vlachs, the Nomads of the Pindus Mountains. I have written (in Greeks Lesbians & Vlachs, HERE) about how this is one of my father's specialist subjects and who the vlachs are. Anyhow, I stumbled upon this lengthy article "Aromanian Vlachs - The Vanishing Tribes" which included a section on my father which he will enjoy as it is very supportive of his work. This is the sort of thing to make a son very proud. It also, rightly, makes him seem a touch eccentric:
From Bronte Sisters to the Vlach Brotherhood..f rom muleteers' trains to Akropolis Express
I sometimes wonder what madeTom Winnifrith leave the chintzy universe of the Bronte Sisters and commute to the harsh,tangly and unrewarding Balkan Vlach topic...For nothing seems more conceivable unrelated than the rough sheepskin waistcoat clad Vlach as against the suavecrinoline of the English shires where professor Winnifrith seemed perennially and so securely stranded. Apart from these pure "sartorial" incompatibilities, it could be after all, I thought, that post-modern penchant for obscure lost causes (thathaunts some of us) and which determined the English professor to embracing a species facing perilous extinction.
It was the Daunt Books in London's Marylebone where I first spotted Winnifrith's book ambiguously titled "The Vlachs -History of a Balkan People"and I thought, instantly, at a book dealing with Romanians, since "Vlach" is just another -if slight obsolete- name for "Romanian" and Balkan Romance (as the last edition of Encyclopedia Britannica to the pointreveals)... Still, it was not the history of the Romanians Winnifrith was focusing upon but that of their close kinsmen, the Vlach populace of the Balkan Peninsula... Risky as it is to extract it from a larger Romanian context to which it organically belongs and try to clone and further present it as a distinct development, the history of the scattered Vlachdom is not the easiest thing to compile.
Yet it has to be said from the start that the Warwick based scholar's book has obvious merits notin the last for his stating of the identity of a people whose very existence is object of a careful camouflage. Winnifrith's The Vlachs soon was to become a ubiquitously quoted work (though not in Greece) and the author himself was paid anunctuous reverence, due to his presumed impartiality.When Winnifrith discovers them in 1975, the Vlachs of Greece were at the end of a traumatizing and torturous process of identity er asure. Roughly one year before, in 1974, with the Colonels’ Junta still in power in Athens, Vlach speakers stillrisked im prisonmentfor casually chatting in their language. The context was grim not only for vulnerable ethnicalminoritiesbut for anyliberal minded person: thousands, including women, were tortured and elementary if frivolous liberties like wearing long hair or mini-skirtwere liable to puritanical punishment
759 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
My father spent the night in hospital awaiting his operation later today. I head to Warwick later this morning to have a chat before he goes into surgery. Last night he kept himself amused reading a biography of Ted Heath that he had discovered on the ward. Poor Dad: has he not suffered enough? That left me alone in his house here in Shipston with only his cat Obe for company.
I have noted before that Obe (named after President Hopey Change, before Dad twigged that the cat was female) hates all of humanity bar my father and so she avoids me other than when demanding food. She saw my father's suitcase and saw him leave and has, ever since, been wandering the house clearly worried that he is not here.
This four hundred year old house was a bit of a wreck when my father and late step mother moved here twenty odd years ago. Now from every wall hang pictures of six children ( my step mother added three to the party) and countless grandchildren. Books are everywhere. They have stamped their mark on the whole house as they renovated it.
The garden was a bombsite but has been lovingly transformed and is bursting with colour from all sorts of flowers. Will the vegetable patch be planted again this spring? I somehow doubt it. I am staying alone in a house where every room or bit of garden tells the tale of a loving couple enjoying an active retirement.
Whatever happens today that era is drawing to a close. As I sat in the garden on a warm spring evening that was all that I could think about. That, and a bird that the wretched Obe had murdered and which she has left as a present by the door for dad when he returns.
759 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
761 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
982 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
The physios are due later today and my father must report to them on his progress since his return from Warwick hospital. E, the delightfully right wing lady who comes twice a day to care for him and I told him firmly that he needed to truthfully demonstrate that he was on the mend. That was the stick. The carrot is the idea that he could walk to the White Bear again...that would be about 400 yards down Sheet Street and across the main square in Shipston.
And so he is in training. Off he went using his new walking frame which may be upgraded to crutches next week. It was not exactly Usain Bolt but he managed ten yards out and ten yards back at a reasonable pace. This afternoon we go again with a target of twenty yards each way. At this rate the White Bear may be do-able before the end of the month. The carror is working better than the stick.
990 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
And thus I have found myself in Warwickshire again. As I headed up to Warwick hospital on Friday my route to my father's was not the normal Cotswold spin but a more Westerley trek. New road signs, new memories. It was thirty years ago today...
It was a warm summer the year I left school. a summer of drinking, girls, parties, smoking and behaving as if there was no tomorrow. A university place already secured with a 2E offer, it was just a time to have fun. We were a privileged lot in that most of us had cars and so heading out anywhere from the villages in the Birmingham suburbs right down to those on the Oxfordshire borders was not an issue - but living in the heart of Leamington, it was just a short stagger to the fleshspots that were the Birch, the Bakers or that poncey wine bar on the parade whose name I forget. When heading to the villages we drove with the recklessness of youth - fast and not always completely under the alcohol limit
As I have driven around the area in recent days and weeks I see a sign and, like one of those little flags on a google map, a name pops up. Dorridge - that would be Ian Murphy and Mike Gillies. Balsall Common - Rich Postins. Radford Semele - Claire Willington. Gosh she was stunning. I remember the non Toga party with Mark Hobbs and burst out laughing. Tysoe - Very cute Sam, as in Samantha, Jones, Kineton - Lizzie and her posh pal Toria from Leamington. I think back to happily carefree times in Tysoe one evening: Vicki Whale and her stunning friend Noddy . Why was she called Noddy? I really cant remember - was her real name Helen? Brian Schwieger - now a heavy hitter at the Stock Exchange and very respectable. It was not always that way. Solihull - that would be Stu Piper. The names keep popping up.
I know that Ian might be reading this and I spoke to Rich by email a few months ago. He is still working in Warwick as an evil PR man and, as I drive through the town, remembering lunch breaks in St Nicholas' Park with girls from King's High and ten packs of Bensons, I wonder where he works?
The truth is that Ive lost contact with nearly everyone. If we met again we would not be thin. Our hair would be greying or disappearing. Well not that of Rick Postins, his was mostly disappeared 30 years ago, he must be bald as a coot by now. We must all have our burdens, there could be no recapturing of that carefree joy.
Back then we laughed at Mr P, sitting on the stairs of his house with a shotgun, to separate girls and boys after a party got out of hand. If he thought he was protecting his daughter's innocence he was sadly mistaken. These days I worry about my daughter getting a boyfriend and can see exactly where Mr P was coming from. He was just a responsible and sensible parent, even if that gun was in fact loaded. Back then we all smoked as if there was no tomorrow with Mark Hobbs rasping for England. Rich tells me that the old hypocrite now berates his 13 year old for having an illicit Marlboro light. How times have changed.
I think of those day and those people very little for, until recently, I have not spent that much time in Warwickshire. But the memory is now well and truly jogged. But there's no real time to look back. It is pointless and the present is far too time consuming.
990 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I came back from Greece on July 2nd and then spent barely five days away from Shipston in that month. My step mother died on the 14th and was buried nine days later. My father, in his old world way, did not "emote" as all around him wept. He said almost nothing. I have no idea what he was thinking or is thinking. One big question was how, when he was finally left alone, would he cope? I worried.
On the first day after I headed back to Bristol, friends visiting from New York popped in to buy him lunch at the Horseshoe, his Sunday lunching pub. My sister T swooped on day two. On day three I got a call. My father had fallen and was in agony as he waited for the ambulance. He could not move.
His replacement hip had popped out. The folks at Warwick Hospital operated within two days and he now sits there recovering and reading some left of centre books dropped off by sister N.. My step sister F and both sisters saw him in the early days. I headed up Friday and saw him Saturday and Sunday. On Monday he was alone but I'm back for a swift visit today. My main purpose in heading North is to assemble a special bed which arrived yesterday so that my father can get a discharge with the NHS happy that he can live downstairs. He won't be climbing stairs for a while.I shall also be dropping off some more suitable reading material: The Reagan Diaries, Paxman on the English and, to please my smug liberal sisters both of whom are married to half Germans, a good tome on how the Krauts were all in on it with Adolf "Hitler's Willing Executioners."
In a pleasant symmetry my father's loathsome cat will also be hospitalised today after coming second in a fight with a larger moggy. Kind neighbours look after the wretched Obie, a cat who hates all humans other than my father whom she adores. Fingers crossed both Dad and Obie will be home and on the mend by later this week. All siblings and step siblings will then be on holiday so I shall be in Shipston once the intensive 72 hour NHS home care period is over. We will bodge along. We will make a few changes to the routines in Shipston and see how things go.
There are six of us. My step siblings hav insisted they want to do all they can for a man who was married to their mother for 28 years. They are all wonderful. There are tensions elsewhere. I have let rip by email a couple of times, feeling that sister T is sledging me or has sledged my father. T emailed my wife two weeks before our wedding day urging her to call things off. To say that we have a close relationship would be an untruth. We disagree about the way forward. That is all for the future. Meanwhile we muddle on by.
My fathers friend M was meant to visit Dad in hospital yesterday but had an "off" day so my father had no visits. M explains his "ageing issues" when I drive him from Leamington to Shipston to see my father or by phone. Getting older has its advantages. Getting old seems pretty grim. I cant say I relish the prospect.
1025 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
The first big shock was when our car pulled up outside my father's house in Shipston. Up ambled by step brother T who greeted us warmly and then up strode a rather sexy looking woman who I did not recognise at all. Had T found a new wife and not told us? The old rogue. These teachers: we know what they get up to in all their vast amounts of spare time and holidays. Reading weeks my arse. So who was this stranger?
It was only when she started speaking that I realised it was my step sister L. Shockingly she has not only cut her long hair but also stopped dying it brown and is now - like her mother and brother completely grey. It is odd how that change of hair colour and style acts as a total disguise. I must remember that, the next time the FCA tries to stitch me up and forces me to go on the run.
The was not the real shock though. It was just over three weeks ago that my father and step mother were with me in Greece. He is pretty immobile and so my step mother was the driver and his carer. But during that trip her illness worsened and she was barely able to keep any food down. Things have now deteriorated to the extent that last week she moved into a hospice just down the road from my old school in Warwick.
We visited yesterday with my father and a woman who'd been walking, swimming, drivimng and chatting three weeks ago was thin, quiet and visibly tired huddled under a blanket staring out onto a communal lawn. Everything has changed.
Today she is coming back to Shipston for a few hours to, in her words, say goodbye to friends, the garden and the vile cat Obie who hates everyone in the world bar my father and step mother. Pro tem I will stay up here with my father and the miserable Obie until the weekend. Though siblings and step siblings communicate constsantly by email it is rather hard to plan more than a few days ahead.
The Guardian has just dropped through the front door. My father makes a point of taking the loathsome rag in for my step mother to read. I ask is she not suffering enough? My father, of course, needs to get a balanced view so - as has been the case for years - will have to go to the pub just to read the Telegraph in the interests of balance.
It is not as if he wants to go to the pub you understand, it is all about balance. That daily ritual is not something that changes although with his stroller it takes an eternity for him to walk to and from the White Bear.
2047 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
Please complete your education profile shouts the latest command: “Where is Warwick School, Warwick, England located?” I am asked to enter the City name in a box to make my education profile complete.
Er, um, let me think is it:
a) Tirana, Albania,
b) Ulan Bator
c) Downtown Damascus, Syria
d) Warwick, England.
Does anyone out there need to go 50/50 or phone a friend on that one?
2347 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
I am staying with my father for a few days looking after him as my step mother is off in London to see wicked Uncle George. As I have noted before my family (little step sister Flea excluded) are a bunch of deluded lefties and so the paper delivered here every day is The Guardian. Imagine my horror at seeing Polly Toynbee’s face staring at me across the breakfast table in the morning.
I have already had a lengthy discussion about Israel/Hamas (Dad and Step Mother support Hamas ‘natch) and various welfare issues (do not ask). My step mother’s return is delayed by intense flooding here in South Warwickshire which will no doubt be blamed by one and all on Global Warming and/or Thatcher!
But I have found that the Guardian can be useful in one way. My Dad has a great big fireplace and although the logs are damp the Guardian is very burnable. My father was worried that I might be using today’s edition before he had fully digested it. I suggested that he might have a clearer world view if he did indeed burn the Guardian every day BEFORE reading it. But in the end we managed to find some old Toynbee for the fire. He takes delight in the continuing roaring flames. I take delight in what started the roaring flames.
2514 days ago
— Tom Winnifrith
On the run into Warwick School in the late 1970s and 1980s I used to share a car in the mornings with Mark and Justin Adams from Bascote Heath. Their Dad would pick me up in Harbury and off we would shoot to the UK’s third oldest school. That was except when it snowed very heavily – Harbury being on top of a hill meant that we might get the day off and head over to Ufton to sled. That was rare. The big debate every day was what to listen to on the radio. Phil Adams, a kindly man, liked smoking and Radio 2 (Terry Wogan). We boys wanted fresh air and “Mike Read, Mike Read on the radio!” – Radio 1. The younger generation swore collectively that when we were adults we could be taken out and shot if we ever chose to listen to Radio 2.
These days I cannot listen to Radio 1. The music ranges from mind numbingly boring to just plain dire. And the presenters cannot speak English and seem to believe that humour has to involve farting or some sort of bodily excretion. And they talk about people who I do not know of and feel that I do not want to know about. If I ever listen to a National Radio station when driving it is either Radio 4 or …go ahead and shoot me… Radio 2. And so driving back from London late last night I switched over from Absolute as yet another dreary Coldplay song came on and found myself on Radio 2 where there was a programme on Ziggy Stardust, the album. Knock me down with a feather, it was released 40 years ago on June 6th 1972. I would have placed it a few years later but then in 1972 I was just 4.
I have written elsewhere about how as a teenager at Warwick School it was acknowledged that David Bowie (who turned 65 last year making me feel very old) was just the coolest man on this planet. Not being the coolest boy even in a small provincial town, I listened to Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and, of course, John Cougar Mellencamp. I was born in a small town. And I grew up in a small town, probably die in a small town and that’s where they will bury me … it seems a fair reflection of life in Warwick and Leamington Spa in 1984. But I did like Bowie too and bought Ziggy Stardust as a tape (younger readers please go to Wikipedia) to play on my Sony Walkman (younger readers please go to Wikipedia).
The programme on Radio 2 featured interviews with most of the Spiders plus Bowie’s publicist, hairdresser, a friend of his clothes designer, etc but also bursts from all of the songs on that album. This is an LP (younger readers please go to Wikipedia) on the back cover of which are the words “This album should be played as loud as possible.” And so as I sped along the M40 the volume went up, the window down and I found myself singing/shouting along to every number. I am not enough of a geek to be able to name every track on the album but I found that knew all the words. How many times must I have played that cassette? Ziggy may be 40 but it feels as fresh and energetic and imaginative as ever.
I am sure I could also sing along to every track on Tom Petty’s Damn The Torpedoes or Springsteen’s The River but, forgiven for his wooden acting in the pretty tedious Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and for a few of his sub-par 1980s releases, Bowie’s music still gets me going in a way that the output of very few artists can.
June 6th is also the birthday of the mother of my daughter Olivia and of my father’s sister. So happy birthday Ziggy, Big Nose and Aunt Lucy.